Governor M. Jodi Rell Signs Compromise Bill to Address Racial Disparities in Drug Sentencing

Press Release July 13, 2005
Media Contact

Elizabeth Mendez Berry at (212) 613-8036 or Robert Rooks at (203) 435-6979

HARTFORD – This Monday, Governor M. Jodi Rell signed a compromise bill that will impose mandatory minimums for both crack and powder cocaine at 14 grams. Last month she vetoed a bill that would have eliminated the disparity in Connecticut’s crack and powder cocaine law by imposing mandatory minimums at 28 grams. Currently, it takes 28 grams (28g) of powder cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence as only half a gram of crack, though they are two forms of the same drug. According to the United States Sentencing Commission’s 2002 Report, nearly 85% of persons convicted of crack cocaine penalties were African American – despite the fact that more whites than blacks use crack cocaine. A 1997 U.S. Sentencing Commission report unanimously supported eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity.

“The community is acutely aware of the racism of these disparities, and through its organizing, it forced the legislature to take action,” said Robert Rooks of the Connecticut Alliance. “In the end, Governor Rell refused to do what the people demanded. This compromise bill is an important first step, but the war on drugs continues to devastate communities of color. We will not stop. The momentum of this win will be carried into next year’s battle against systemically racist policies, including mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses.”

According to a 1996 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article by Marian Fischman and Dorothy Hatsukami, the physiological and psychoactive effects of powder and crack cocaine are very similar, yet Connecticut is currently one of thirteen states with major crack and powder cocaine sentencing distinctions. At the federal level, similar disparities exist: the federal government treats small amounts (5 grams) of crack cocaine in the same way as they do large amounts (500 grams) of powder cocaine. Representative Charles Rangel, (D-NY), along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, has re-introduced into Congress the Crack-Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act of 2005 (HR 2456). His bill would treat the two forms of cocaine equally in federal sentencing.

“While it’s a shame that Governor Rell vetoed the original bill, this new law takes three or four steps forward and only one backward,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Undoing the drug war excesses of the 1980s and 1990s is no small task. Connecticut’s action will hopefully inspire other legislators around the country to redress these racially unjust laws.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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